The Microscopic Septet: Been Up So Long It Looks Like Down to Me (Cuneiform)

Microscopic Septet: "Been Up So Long..."
Microscopic Septet: “Been Up So Long…”

The Microscopic Septet explores the blues almost exclusively on its eighth album. Soprano saxophonist Phillip Johnston and pianist Joel Forrester, the band’s leaders since its founding in 1980, have written a dozen blues-form tunes that manage to sound nothing like one another. One of the 12, to be fair, is a reharmonized version of “Silent Night,” and a 13th song, “I’ve Got a Right to Cry,” is in fact not a blues but a 1950s hit (by Joe Liggins and the Honeydrippers) that fits right in nonetheless.

Like the Microscopic Septet’s other records, this one is a heck of a lot of fun. Every song radiates enthusiasm, from the happy Sidney Bechet tribute “Don’t Mind If I Do” (with its wonderful piano accent phrases) and the slow-drag Duke Ellington tribute “12 Angry Birds” (featuring a sultry Johnston solo) to the blues march of “Migraine Blues” and the bebop of “Quizzical.” The disc’s first tune, “Cat Toys,” is a cool jam that allows alto saxophonist Don Davis and tenor saxophonist Mike Hashim to turn in very different solos over a soul-jazz groove. Indeed, though the Microscopics have long been the Johnston/Forrester show, the other musicians get their moments. Among the most notable is Dave Sewelson’s bone-rattling bari-sax solo on “Migraine Blues,” where his fevered blowing extends out over top of the theme. One little criticism: The album would be stronger without the dry, dull and too-long revision of “Silent Night.”

Steve Greenlee

Steve Greenlee is the managing editor of the Portland Press Herald in Maine and a former longtime editor and jazz critic at The Boston Globe. He plays keyboards in two local cover bands.